Skip to main content

Full text of "08BRIDGETOWN23"

See other formats


VZCZCXRO0114 

PP RUEHGR RUEHHM RUEHJO RUEHPOD 
DE RUEHWN #0023/01 0111710 
ZNR UUUUU ZZH 
P 111710Z JAN 08 
FM AMEMBASSY BRIDGETOWN 
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5988 
INFO RUCNCOM/EC CARICOM COLLECTIVE 
RUEHXI /LABOR COLLECTIVE 
RUE HCV/ AMEMBASSY CARACAS 1856 
RUMIAAA/HQ USSOUTHCOM J2 MIAMI FL 
RUMIAAA/HQ USSOUTHCOM J5 MIAMI FL 
RUEHCV/USDAO CARACAS VE 

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BRIDGETOWN 000023 

SIPDIS 

SIPDIS 

SENSITIVE 

DRL/IL FOR GARBIELA RIGGS 
SOUTHCOM ALSO FOR POLAD 
DOL FOR I LAB 

E.O. 12958: N/A 

TAGS: PGOV PREL ELAB XL 

SUBJECT: LABOR STRIFE HEATING UP IN EASTERN CARIBBEAN 

IQ. Summary: In recent months, there have been a number of 

high-profile industrial actions in the Eastern Caribbean. Behind 
the increase in industrial actions, lies a worsening economic 
situation for the average worker, who is facing shrinking real 
income due to high inflation, and decrease in real wages. Labor 
unions, once very powerful and able to dictate labor negotiations, 
are faced with declining membership and influence. The following is 
a summary of these noteworthy cases. End Summary 

LIAT Sick Out Cripples Operations Throughout the Region 



1.2 . LIAT flight attendants staged an unauthorized two-day sick out 
protest, December 19-20, scrambling flight plans throughout region. 
LIAT, owned by the governments of Barbados, Antigua, and St Vincent, 
is the only regional carrier that covers all of the islands of the 
Eastern Caribbean. The other regional carrier, Caribbean Star, 
merged with LIAT and closed November 15th. 

1.3. The underlying issues were pension funding and the hiring of 
contract workers. The airline workers are complaining that LIATT is 
underfunding the pension program, and there is concern over the 
hiring of contract workers, in lieu of hiring permanent staff. 
Although they returned to work after two days, the airline pilots 
and flight attendants threatened additional industrial action after 
the New Year. The estimated economic cost of the two-day walk out 
was ECD 100,000 (USD 37,000). 

Cable and Wireless Dispute Mediated Days Before Election 



14. Just eleven days before the Barbados parliamentary elections on 
January 15, 75 percent of the workers from Cable and Wireless, the 
monopolistic telecommunications provider on Barbados, went on 
strike, disrupting telephone and Internet operations island-wide. 

15. According to the Sir Roy Trottman, the president of the Barbados 
Workers Union (BWU), workers were striking against Cable and 
Wireless's treatment of workers, particularly the harassment against 
those who sought union assistance in resolving problems. Trottman 
also pointed out that management did not treat workers with dignity, 
such as disciplining them if they gave too much time to individual 
customers. Another minor, but important, issue is a lapsed wage 
negotiation. The company offered a 10 percent wage increase over a 
two-year period while the BWU demanded a 12 percent increase over a 
two-year period. 

1.6. The Prime Minister personally intervened on January 9th and 
convened an all day meeting with the union and the company. They 



successfully reached an agreement on new wages, as well as a 
commitment to resolve the pending labor management issues. The 
strike could prove a political liability as the opposition party has 
played up the strike as an example of the administration's 
incompetence and unwillingness to stand up for the common man. 

ADM Dispute Festering 



T_7 . In October, the Barbados Branch office of Arthur Daniels Midlands 
Corporation restructured staff, giving 15 senior employees early 
retirement and replacing them with contract workers. ADM claimed 
the BWU approved of this plan. However, the Union went to the aid 
of the fired workers, claiming that ADM did not follow normal 
procedures for termination, and threatened to stage a general strike 
against the company if the company did not reinstate the workers and 
then follow normal procedures for termination. 

1[8 . After trading accusations in the media and to LABOFF, the union 
and company reached an agreement - the workers were rehired and then 
terminated per normal procedures. The Union and Company will meet 
January 24, for further discussions. Laboff will continue to follow 
this issue and report as warranted. Trottman is seeking to have the 
General Manager's work permit revoked as he claimed the GM hired 
illegal Guyanese workers to replace the fired workers. (NOTE: The 

issue of illegal Guyanese workers is an inflammatory issue in 
Barbados. Extremely unpopular, Barbadians fear massive Guyanese 
emigration and blame Guyanese for taking jobs away from Barbadians. 
End Note) 

Other Labor Conflicts in the Eastern Caribbean 



BRIDGETOWN 00000023 002 OF 002 



11.9 . In early Summer 2007 the dockworkers (known as "stevedores" at 
the St. Kitts port broke with the St. Kitts Shipping Association 
because they felt the union was not properly representing them. 

The stevedores forming the union are reportedly "casual workers" who 
have been doing the job up to 30 years, and do not get paid sick 
leave or holidays and claim not to have access to safety equipment. 
The union conducted work stoppages in August and November when talks 
with Shipping Association broke down Since the unions in St. 

Kitts and Nevis have been traditionally tied to the country's ruling 
Labour Party, the formation of this small, new union appears to 
represent growing discontent with the increasing weakness of the 
unions as they have come under greater governmental control. 

11_10. Following St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister 
Gonsalves ' Independence Day announcement that most civil servants 
would receive raises as a result of the governments ' 
"reclassification exercise," the reclassification results for 
teachers announced in late December were not well received by the 
Teacher's Union., According to the Union, in some cases the salary 
scales were adjusted downwards, meaning that many teachers will 
suffer substantial pay cuts. The union also claimed that only about 
5% of the teachers would receive raises from the reclassification. 

11.11. As a form of protest, the Union decided to call for "two days 
of rest and reflection" on January 9 and 10, 2008. The Prime 
Minister, before he left the island, blasted the teachers, and the 
acting PM Mike Browne insinuated that the Unions' decision was 
guided by "anti-government teachers who pushed the decision in that 
direction." As in the case of St. Kitts, local contacts have 
repeatedly told Poloff that the Gonsalves administration has 
hand-picked people loyal to the ruling Unity Labor Party to lead the 
unions. The Teacher's Union is widely seen as especially 
pro-government, so the recent dispute and industrial action came as 
a surprise and likely represents a political miscalculation on 
Gonsavles ' behalf. 

The Roots of Discontent 

11_12. Comment: All of these labor incidents have roots in many of the 
chief economic constraints that have been facing Barbados and the 
Eastern Caribbean in recent months. Among the key issues underlying 



these conflicts are shrinking real incomes due to high inflation, 
decreases in real wages, and the influx of foreign workers to 
perform at lowers wages. 

While the labor unions remain powerful players in Barbados, recent 
events highlight the extent to which they have become weakened in 
the OECS nations. If the cost of living in the EC continues to rise 
as the rate it did in 2007, then labor conflicts and labor union 
actions could likewise see a dramatic increase in 2008. End 
Comment . 

OURISMAN